The Language We Use

The words we use as trainers to describe our actions and desires are wonderful indicators of our real training philosophy. This was brought back to me while reading an article in a popular bird magazine recently. I will paraphrase the actual text here:

“[These birds] need someone who is not afraid to make them step up.”

This one sentence embodies everything that is the antithesis of what I believe is the best training philosophy and it is an approach that is prevalent in our society. As I have mentioned before, the use of force and coercion is a “go to” tool for so very many people because it is how they themselves learned valuable lessons as a child. Force and Coercion work and therefore the person applying them is reinforced for their use. It is therefore not surprising that it continues to be widely used.

Much has been written about the side effects and fallout from coercion and if there is any doubt in your mind about this fallout I recommend reading
“Coercion and its Fallout” by Murray Sidman.

It is not sufficient to simply attempt to use the most positive least intrusive training methods as described by Dr Susan Friedman so elegantly in her article
“What’s wrong with this picture? Effectiveness is not enough”. In order to succeed one must think, speak, and live that way at all times. Sure, those of us attempting this fall off that track from time to time, however by making our goal a lifestyle applying this principle we can only improve our relationships with our pets, our coworkers, our friends, and everyone with whom we have contact.

Part of this lifestyle is to choose words carefully. Avoid talking about the “Step up command” and instead think and speak of the step up request. Don’t think of “making” your bird do anything, always think in terms of giving your bird choices to perform the behaviors you request. If your training and relationship with your bird are good then the request will fulfilled.


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